Camps and combines are winding down as are on-campus college camps, which means it's time to unveil an updated ESPN 300 for the 2014 class. With over 1,000 players now evaluated, it is very difficult to rank the top 300 as many players just outside are also worthy. Also, the difference between No. 171 and No. 233, or No. 155 and No. 142 are essentially negligible. We do the best we possibly can with the information we have and live with it. As always we try to place a premium value on certain positions of impact (QB, CB, OL, DE) and rely on critical factors to help us slot players accordingly.
The 2014 class strengths on offense are clearly at running back (for the second year in a row) and wide receiver as the trend of big, long targets continues. Offensively the jury is still out for the most part at quarterback top-to-bottom. Deshaun Watson (Gainesville, Ga./Gainesville), Keller Chryst (Palo Alto, Calif./Palo Alto), David Cornwell (Norman, Okla./North) and Brandon Harris (Bossier City, La./Parkway), among others, all seem to be atop most programs' boards. Most of the group is developmental. Of the top 26 wide receivers in the class, only three are 5-foot-11 or shorter.
Defensively we feel it is a down year along the defensive front on the inside at tackle. A defensive strength is definitely on the perimeter at cornerback with the likes of Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus), Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra) and Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover), to name a few.
Movers and Shakers
With every rankings update, there are players who make big moves up, tumble down, enter the rankings or just see significant grade changes. Here are some of the big moves and a few notes on some of the ones that stood out a little more.
• DE Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) moves up four spots to No. 10, but more important earned a fifth star. He becomes the fifth defensive lineman with five-star status.
• ILB Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) moves up two spots to No. 13 and also earned the fifth star. This move is as much about competitive character and intangibles as it is anything else. His conduct, production, personality and leadership skills lend to a minimized bust factor. Add in the ability level and there is a high probability for success.
• QB-DT Brandon Harris makes the biggest jump, if we can all it that, with his debut in the rankings at No. 48. We liked him early and had we released an ESPN 300 in April, he would have been just outside the ESPN 150, but we didn't have a lot to go on, which is why he had that grade back then. Now we have seen him several times and he is right up there with Watson. Watson might be a little more polished; Harris has the better arm.
• CB Stephen Roberts (Opelika, Ala./Opelika) debuts in the rankings at No. 83. The Crimson Tide commit could play just about any role in the defensive secondary and be productive. You know we value corners who are big, and he picked the right school to attend given how Alabama values length on the perimeter. Don't rule out a nickel/safety role like DeQuan Menzie played for the Crimson Tide.
• DE Trent Harris (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park) joins the rankings at No. 114.
• RB Nick Chubb (Cedartown, Ga./Cedartown) enters the ESPN 300 at No. 142.
• WR Markell Pack (Purvis, Miss./Purvis) joins the ESPN 300 at No. 145.
• OT Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) made a big move jumping from No. 33 to No. 18.
• QB-PP Keller Chryst is now the new No. 1 QB-PP and jumped from No. 50 to No. 21. His polish, pedigree and experience prompted this move over Cornwell. Plus Chryst plays from under center a lot, which we love.
• QB-PP David Cornwell dropped from No. 24 to No. 34 and is now the No. 2 QB-PP. This is more of a reflection of Cornwell's lack of overall experience at this point, not his ability level. We would still argue that few, if any, QBs in this class possess his pure arm talent and tools.
• ATH Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East) dropped from No. 22 to No. 32.
• OT Kc McDermott (Wellington, Fla./Palm Beach Central) moved into the top 50, climbing from No. 52 to No. 45.
• ATH J.C. Jackson (Immokalee, Fla./Immokalee) dropped from No. 48 to No. 72.
• QB-PP Kyle Allen (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain) jumps into the top 100, moving from No. 128 to No. 99.
• QB-PP Drew Barker (Hebron, Ky./Conner) and QB-PP Caleb Henderson (Burke, Va./Lake Braddock) both fell out of the ESPN 150. This is more of a reflection of other prospects moving up than it is an indictment on Henderson or Barker as prospects. We have stated all along that this class is lean at quarterback.
• RB Nathan Starks (Greenwood Village, Colo./Cherry Creek) fell out of the ESPN 150. After being suspended from school, off-the-field issues plus the fact our initial assessment of him being overrated in comparison to others at the position was confirmed after studying more and more tape of prospects from around the country prompted this move.
• WR Drake Harris (Grand Rapids, Mich./Grand Rapids Christian) made a big move jumping from No. 96 to No. 71. This has been a move everyone has been clamoring for, and while he moves into the top 10 WRs it is difficult to bump some of those guys in front of him. Now that Harris is devoted to football full time we expect him to have another great year.
• WR Chris Godwin (Middletown, Del./Middletown) saw a significant grade increase to put him at No. 153 in the ESPN 300. The more we watched this guy, the more we valued his size/strength/speed combo. He is the type of player who needs polish, but has all the tools.
• OG Quenton Nelson (Red Bank, N.J./Red Bank) saw a significant grade increase and also sits at No. 155 in the ESPN 300.
• QB-PP Brad Kaaya (West Hills, Calif./Chaminade) is in the ESPN 300 and saw a significant grade increase. Kaaya, a Hurricanes commit, just keeps getting better and better the more you watch him. Credit Miami as he was on their radar when no one else knew who he was. Kaaya is a high-upside player who is ultra-competitive.
Introducing a new evaluation format
Whether it be the collegiate or professional level of football, there have always been varying writing styles for player personnel reports depending on organizational preference. Over the past seven classes we have written our player evaluations in the "overall assessment" format, where through the course of 275-350 words we have encompassed an introduction, various strengths and weaknesses and a brief conclusion into one report. For many programs at the college level, we see this same format in a shortened, condensed version with as many as three or four coaches on the staff contributing to the evaluation.
Moving forward, we have decided to incorporate a more strategic player evaluation based on a set of critical factors and traits specific to a certain position in a "template" format. This method also will allow us to mirror our college-to-NFL player evaluations done by Todd McShay and his staff so that when it comes time for a player to be draft eligible, you will be able to access how we evaluated a particular player coming out of high school and how he is being evaluated coming out of college with similar or identical critical factors by position.
The phrases "critical factors" or "position specific traits" are what we use as a template for what we are looking for in a player at a particular position. For example, you will see "separation skills" for the wide receiver position. We feel this is a critical factor to the success of the position. It can include strengths or weaknesses in such areas as route running, change of direction, speed and flexibility, among other traits. Each position will have a set of critical factors that we will address in a template format that is divided into its own individual sections. We feel this will provide more clarity and also align better with our NFL draft reports.
Generally there can be as many as 8-10 critical factors per position, but we have tapered this down to five we feel are most important. We as evaluators have the freedom to include more detail about other traits that we feel best serve the evaluation of that player and will add that to one of the five areas we feel it best fits.
We will be back in July with another round of updates once the camp season officially comes to close as we head into the fall. Hope you enjoy and let the debate begin!